A short weekend in Dublin


James had never seen the Irish Rugby team play at home so Friday morning saw us on an early train to Holyhead under blue skies and sunshine. I was trying to remember whether I had ever been west of Chester by train as we are usually driving to Anglesey to visit friends or to take the ferry to Ireland. The railway soon meets the coast and the tide was out on the Dee Estuary so lots of birds were feeding on the sand but we sped fast too quickly to identify many. At Holyhead there is a seamless transition from the train to the ferry terminal which is at the end of the platforms. It is also a short walk over a modern bridge to to the town centre.

I had hoped that as we were sailing west and sunset was around an hour before we were due to arrive in Dublin, that I might get some sunset shots but the advancing weather front brought dense cloud which put paid to that idea. Taxis were in short supply at the port despite two ferries arriving within a short time but one arrived eventually and we were soon ensconced in our quayside hotel. That evening we met some friends from Dublin whom we had not seen for several years and returned to the Winding Stair Restaurant. I have still not managed to be there when the bookshop on the ground floor is open. On Saturday morning we walked along the quayside and crossed the river to Trinity College. Several hungry gulls were looking hopefully at passers-by.

Rowan Gillespie’s 1997 sculpture ‘Famine’ also stands by the river.

Our destination that morning was the Book of Kells exhibition which was over-booked on our last visit. Near the college we passed a pub which had been open since 7am. I later learnt that this was originally to serve the market traders. There was no market that day but several people inside. There is an explanatory exhibition about the Books of Kells, Armagh and Durrow, the old manuscripts on display and then you can visit the old college library.


It is a fabulous building, housing around 20,000 of the library’s oldest books and lined with marble busts. On our visit there was also a display of ephemera relating to Oscar Wilde. There is Ireland’s oldest harp which dates from the 15th century and a copy of the 1916 proclamation of the Irish Republic. The rest of Saturday was spent meeting up with friends and enjoying the rugby match which Ireland won. We had planned to spend Sunday morning visiting a few more places in the city in a leisurely fashion before catching an afternoon boat back to Holyhead. However, a text received during dinner changed our plans as the afternoon ‘swift boat’ was cancelled due to bad weather and we had to take the early morning one. Some time ago, catamarans were introduced on several of the Irish Sea routes to reduce the time of the crossings. However, their movement meant that they were rapidly dubbed ‘the vomit comet’ and were also said to create waves big enough to wash fishermen off the walls of Dun Laoghaire which was the port ferries from the UK previously came into. As we boarded the ferry, the police were escorting an Asian man onto the boat. However we later saw him wandering around unescorted and he disembarked with the rest of us. I hope that they had not had to protect him from harassment. I read today that hate crime rates have now overtaken sectarian crime rates in Northern Ireland but I do not know if this is the case in the Republic. In addition to cancelled boats we also had cancelled trains. The person in the rail ticket office in Holyhead did not seem to know which were running and which were not. The first train was a relatively new, warm Arriva train which only took us as far as Llandudno Junction but with views of the mountains in Snowdonia with a dusting of snow. After that we were squashed onto a bus to Chester and then a very full Virgin train home, determined to make our next visit somewhat longer.

Walking the Water of Leith

I have to confess, we have not walked the 24 miles of the Water of Leith from the source in the Pentland Hills, nor the 12 plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Leith. We did not have time to complete the full length of the Walkway so chose to walk to Leith from the point nearest to us.

As soon as we had returned from Ireland, friends were asking why I was not in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe. We did come up in the middle of the month as we had some work which needed to be carried out on the flat and had selected a few samples of comedy, music and photography from the Fringe to enjoy as well. Some sensible residents stay away completely as getting around is more difficult and takes longer if you have to pass through the main tourist areas; fending off the flyers constantly shoved in your face. After enjoying Dan Willis, a UK comedian living in Australia presenting a ‘Whinging Pom’s Guide’ to the country, Ed Byrne, the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition and a great night with Lorna Reid at the Jazz Club, we were ready for a change of scene. We have walked a few sections of the Walkway in the past but fancied a bigger chunk today. It is a two mile walk to our nearest section and includes a bit of the Union Canal.

The Visitors’ Centre is at Slateford just next to where the river flows under the aqueduct carrying the Union canal. We had a coffee before hitting the trail just under the aqueduct where a sign told us it was seven miles to Leith.

There are currently a few diversions due to path closures. There has been a landslip and one section has been closed for six months while this is investigated and decisions made about action. Other sections are closed due to works on the Flood Prevention Scheme. Back on the path we enjoyed the greenery including trees and wildflowers but also spotted large clusters of an introduced problem plant: Himalayan Balsam. It is an annual but produces 800 seeds per year which are propelled huge distances and can be carried by water. It out-competes native flora and is very difficult to eradicate.

Other places have street art.

We passed the Balgreen Community Garden with raised beds made from sleepers like my own and an invertebrate hotel.

There are numerous places along the way where you can join or leave the Walkway and it connects with some of the cycle routes. Occasionally the path leaves the riverside for a short stretch for example, in the Dean Village.

It passes St Bernard’s Well, built on the site of an spring and which is open on Sundays in August. Here is an interior shot I took a couple of years ago:

Before we reached Leith we came across a family of swans having a grooming session. The swan’s partner was watching nearby.

After a succession of signs all saying Leith was 1¾ miles, we eventually reached The Shore. There is a Turkish Cafe and a pub, Salvation ready to restore you and for fine dining, Restaurant Martin Wishart is a little further along. After some refreshments it was time to catch the bus home. With all the diversions we had in fact clocked up 12 miles.

Ireland: Kilkenny and Carlow

We spent our last morning in the south exploring Kilkenny and Carlow before dropping our friends off at Dublin airport and heading north to spend a few days with relatives in North Antrim. Kilkenny has a lot of history with a medieval mile starting at the castle. The castle dates from 1192 having been constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure but has been remodelled several times, most recently by the Butler family.

We did not tour inside but walked around the park surrounding the castle and the garden around the Dower House.


The park was busy with the Saturday Fun Run so we walked over to the Castle Yard which hosts the Design Centre and several craft studios. One display in the Design Centre Gallery called ‘Lustre’ was of jewellery produced by students based on the Faberge egg concept. They explored this theme and produce their own works encased in the egg. I also looked at some copper plate etchings as this is something I have planned to do at some point.

We looked in at some of the studios and found some ceramics we liked. After a coffee in the restaurant upstairs it was time to leave the tourists gathering outside the castle and return to the hotel for a cocktail (non-drivers only) and to digest the Irish Times before beginning our drive northeast to Carlow.

This is another town I had visited many years ago while working but I could remember little about it. Just as we were getting out of the car I met an elderly gentleman walking up the hill who paused just to take a breath. He told me that he was 88 and knew everything that there was to know about Carlow. He was keen to tell me that the river used to be bigger and have ‘really big’ boats on it. Now rowing seems to be the main waterborne activity. We walked over to the ruined castle

and then along the river path to the Millennium Bridge. Swans and a rook were keen to befriend us in case we had any food for them.


In the park ‘Bridging’ an installation containing works by teenagers on a 14-week project exploring life as a teenager in Carlow was on display.

This is one of the panels.

Carlow does have an art institute and walking back to the car, we passed some street art entitled ‘Wall R Us: is it a wall or is it us?’.

Having dropped our friends off at the airport we continued on the motorway to the border. Just north of Dublin we noted that we had driven 700 miles on this trip so far. There were still tractors on the motorway and the six-lane road it becomes across the border. Summer seemed to be ending as we made our way to North Antrim in rain. Fortunately this did not last and the sun and blue skies returned for the remainder of our trip.

Ireland: Waterford to Cork

I experienced a first this morning in our Waterford Hotel: whisky on my porridge. There were other offerings including a whisky liqueur but I stuck to a small dash of the local hootch. Before leaving Waterford we visited Waterford Crystal to buy a gift and then wandered along the waterfront. This artwork was produced during one of the annual arts festivals and represents positive mental health. One of the hotel staff told us that the artist had started to paint, it had begun to rain but he continued, much to the amazement of everyone.

Back on the road we passed Dungarvan and then diverted via R674 to Helvick Head (Ceann Heilbhic in Irish). Irish Gaelic is still spoken in the community around here. Just before the end of the headland there is an old building which used to house some Turkish Baths. The nearby cafe now offers spa facilities. There is a short path which leads down to a small pebble beach where some families were enjoying the sun. There are also views over Dungarvan Bay.

There is a small harbour where one guy was fishing from the wall.

Just as we were about to leave, a fishing boat returned and was offering his scraps to the gulls who crowded around his boat. There were drifts of wildflowers and some crocosmia that had escaped from someone’s garden and was flourishing. Pollinators were feeding and I spotted this Painted Lady butterfly which is declining in number.

We sat outside the cafe enjoying our drinks while this Pied Wagtail hung around hoping for some crumbs.

All too soon it was time to return to the main road and continue towards Cork. I made a note that south of Youghal there is a large sandy beach and a bird reserve to visit on another occasion. Before we got to Middleton there was a long delay due to road works and then the satnav tried to send us down a pedestrian passageway in the middle to Cork when we were trying to find our hotel. We got there eventually and settled in to plan our exploration the following day.

Catching some culture in London


The day before we left for London, the West Coast Mainline was closed for a while between Watford and Milton Keynes due to an incident and the British Museum had been evacuated because of what was later discovered to be an unfounded security scare. The media were obsessed with this being the busiest weekend of the year as schools in England and Wales break up for the summer holidays and our airspace was described as full with more aircraft taking off than ever before. Fortunately our early morning train journey was without any problems. We walked up to Islington as James was keen to ferret about in the antique market in Camden Passage. We found a gift for some friends on one of the stalls. Chatting to the proprietor of an antique print shop we heard how floods had hit both his shop and his home nearby in December 2016. Caffeine levels were topped up in a cafe with a tiny sun trap at the back.

The next stop was at the Southbank Book Market which is close to Waterloo Bridge. I did not find any books but instead bought an 18th century map of Africa. When we were heading back over Waterloo Bridge, a large posse of Vespas passed underneath. As we waled up to Covent Garden we met numerous Italian and Chinese school trips all wielding selfie sticks and umbrellas at eye level. My destination was Stanfords to study Australian maps and atlases for our big lap next year. Afterwards we popped into a bar on Tottenham Court Road so that James could catch up with some football. That evening we had a pre-theatre dinner and then saw ‘The Ferryman’ at the Gielgud Theatre. This recent play written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Sam Mendes is set in Northern Ireland in 1981. It lasts three hours and was very well done. On Sunday morning we walked to the Tate Modern, crossing the Embankment in the middle of a cycle race. We had tickets to see the Fahrelnissa Zeid exhibition, getting there early enough to avoid the long queues for security searches.

The exhibition covers her largely forgotten work from early figurative painting, her move to abstract and back to figurative work. The building is also interesting.

On the way back to our hotel a cold beer was needed and in a Covent Garden pub we met someone from Alsager who also volunteers in the Book Emporium. Dinner that night was in Chinatown. The wine list in the restaurant raised a smile at the spelling of ‘Congnac’. In the nearby market, a man was explaining Durian, known as the world’s smelliest fruit, to potential customers.

Soho has largely been gentrified but there are still glimpses of the old area down some side streets as we were heading back to the hotel. On Sunday morning we had tickets for the very popular Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum.

It was very busy but still very enjoyable.
We met up with some friends and looked at some of the marbles from the Parthenon before escaping for lunch.

Fresh air was needed so we took a ferry trip on the Thames
and after disembarking at Westminster, walked back past the Houses of Parliament to St James’s Park.

As always there were plenty of waterfowl including this pair of black swans with their cygnets.

Our return train journey was on time but there were notices all over Euston Station reminding people that there will be no trains on the August Bank Holiday Saturday and Sunday.

New Zealand: Rotorua


We joined the rugby tour in Auckland and left on a bus. It was a pleasant change from driving, having done just over 2000 miles in the previous two weeks. We drove back down the Southern Highway and past Huntly but then turned off through Morrinsville amid dairy farming country and had a break at Matamata. It has achieved fame as the film set for Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings. You can tour the film set for $99 if you wish. We had a quick lunch and then completed our journey to Rotorua. The lake is a peaceful oasis late afternoon.

This black swan was just settling down for the night.

In the evening, we had a drink in Eat Street. The police and someone from public health were patrolling although it was quiet. As a street pastor back home, it is usually me keeping the streets safe while everyone else is eating and drinking inside so it was slightly strange to be on the other side for a change. Dinner was in a Chinese restaurant where we were the only non-Chinese customers. On Saturday morning, we walked out to Whakarewarewa, a Maori village with thermal waters on the south side of Rotorua.

The local community cook and bath using the waters. Very gradually they are having to move up the hill as sink holes appear in the very thin crust in the lower parts of the area.

This is an old hut they sued to shelter in on winter nights that is no longer in use.

We had a guided tour that lasts for an hour and which was very interesting, covering the geo-thermal activity, the Maori history and culture here. There are other options including cultural performances, dining on food cooked in the thermal ovens and walking trails around the village and lake, some of which we did. There are two overlooks giving good views of the geysers.

We also met a pukeko.

The woman who runs the gift shop and looks after around 15 cats, was working in the Chinese restaurant we ate in the evening before and recognised James. The money raised from the entrance fee and tours goes back to the community. There is a larger, more commercial thermal village a little further down the road which is busier and more expensive. We walked back into town and picked up some lunch before it was time to go to the rugby stadium. I have been to countless rugby matches over the years but the first game was the first women’s match I have seen. England were playing the New Zealand Black Ferns and won as did the British Lions who beat the All Blacks in the second game. It was very wet and I found myself watching some of the media. One guy from the Sky Sports Team was zooming around on a Segway and managing to shoot video at the same time. Other photographers were dumping one camera on the wet grass while they were using the other. It was quite amusing to see that the referee and lines people were sponsored by Specsavers, especially considering some of the decisions they made. Quite a few of the Lions’ fans had stuffed lions, hats and costumes but we met a group of Irish guys, one of whom was dressed as Pink Panther. After the game we eventually found the correct bus back to the hotel and planned a lazy day on Sunday before the next move.

New Zealand: the road to Queenstown

Another early start on a cold frosty morning to drive back down Highway 94 and then over to Queenstown. Milford Sound is a good place for dark skies as there is very little light pollution. Although I have been in the southern hemisphere numerous times, I always find the stars in the southern sky a little disorientating. The car thermometer read zero for most of the icy road down to Te Anau where we were accompanied by misty mountains and frosty leaves.


We had to drive carefully in order not to end up in in a ditch like one vehicle we passed with emergency services in attendance. We had stopped at one layby to look at the view and noticed two Kea on another car. They appeared to be trying to eat the rubber seals. I told the two women in the car that our squirrels chew the lead flashing on the roof for no obvious reason. I was quite pleased to get a shot of them as we had seen several Kea but they had all disappeared very quickly. I am still trying to identify all the raptors we have seen feeding on road kill.


At Te Anau we stopped for a coffee and then turned towards Queenstown. The sun had at last come out and the thermometer started to rise a little.

Our picnic lunch was eaten by Lake Wakatipu and then we endured the major roadworks around the construction of a new bridge into Queenstown. It was quite strange to be back among the crowds on a Friday afternoon in this busy town. It is a major base for winter sports and there were a lot of young people around. There are numerous outdoor retailers and obviously some wealth around as there is also a Louis Vuitton store. Needless to say we did not need to do any shopping but chose a walk around the garden peninsula instead. There we discovered a new sport. We had spotted a few people throwing frisbees and coming across one in the undergrowth, had assumed it was lost. We shouted over to the nearest family who told us to leave it which was a bit mystifying. We saw a few more lying on the ground, seemingly abandoned further on, but it was not until we left the park that I saw a notice saying that Disc Golf had been played there since the 1990s.

Some people thought it was warm enough to sit on the beach but it was not warm enough for me.

Fortunately our hotel is out of town a bit and fairly quiet for relaxing in before tomorrow’s journey.